George Clooney is the next American president…

Columbia Pictures has released the poster for George Clooney’s next film, a political drama which he also co-wrote and directed.  The Ides of March pulls a heavy cast including Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti, and is based on the play Farragut North by former political staffer Beau Willimon, who wrote the film with Clooney.

The film tells the story of an idealistic campaign press secretary, played by Gosling, who gets caught up in a political scandal during the Ohio primary, possibly threatening Clooney’s presidential candidate’s chances of reaching the White House.

Clooney originally planed to make the film in 2008, but held off sensing the optimistic mood of the country radiating off of Obama’s campaign.  Of course now that a cynical fog of debt ceiling debates, sex scandals and political taunting between parties (Obama is mad because he’s feeling “left out” by Boehner? Are you kidding me?) has settled like pea soup over America, well, the mood is more suitable to the content.

The poster for the film is intriguing, and reflects the reality of politics and political discourse: The media—print, 24 hour, internet—and those who manipulate it, like Gosling’s press secretary, are at least half (if not more) of what and who, affects and creates policy in America.

Clooney himself is by no means a stranger to politics, or political films for that matter; he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Role in 2005s Syriana.  In the February issue of Newsweek naming Clooney the 21st Century Statesman, the cover story touches on Ides of March, saying the actor wrote the film, “giving his character lines he’d like to hear from a presidential candidate.”  The article went on to state that we shouldn’t expect to see the former ER doc running for higher office anywhere but on the big screen:

I didn’t live my life in the right way for politics, you know,” he said, “I f–ked too many chicks and did too many drugs, and that’s the truth.” A smart campaigner, he believes, “would start from the beginning by saying, ‘I did it all. I drank the bong water. Now let’s talk about issues.’ That’s gonna be my campaign slogan: ‘I drank the bong water.’?”

Given the state of American politics right now, I can honestly say, I would vote for that.

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The Dark Knight Rises

The teaser for Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film is here.

Over the weekend, as the last installment of Harry Potter hit theaters, breaking every box office record for an opening weekend known to man as the world turned out to say goodbye to the boy wizard, the first teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises appeared during the previews.

The teaser is dark, looking and sounding very Chris Nolan-y, dominated by monochromatic color schemes and varying degrees of gray, with music that is heavy on horns and aggressive in its beats, similar to Nolan’s previous Dark Knight films and last years Inception (best trailer music ever).  Hans Zimmer’s scores may be overbearing at times but they’re almost always right for the film, and play especially well with the tones in Nolan’s movies.

Speaking of Nolan’s Inception, the poster for Dark Knight Rises could easily be a left-over still from the enigmatic thriller.  The film also reunites Nolan with Inception actors Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard.  Truthfully though, I don’t mind the similarities; I loved Inception and Nolan’s previous Batman films, and therefore I assume that I will love this one as well.

What I’ve always found interesting about Batman is how well the character plays in good times and bad—his inherently dark nature, along with Tim Burton’s quirky rendering of the franchise was the reigning superhero of the booming 90’s, while Nolan’s Dark Knight was also well received in 2005 and 2008 as the US slowly trudged through the Bush years, fighting two wars and a recession.

There are a lot of films to look forward to in 2012 (seriously, is it 2012 yet?), but as of right now, The Dark Knight Rises is at the top of my list.


A ‘new wave’ of African film

This is a somewhat-abbreviated version of a post I did for Africa is a Country, read the full version here.

“Sometimes I wonder: Will God ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other?” says Leonardo DiCaprio, sullen and bleary-eyed, stoically staring just off camera.

“… I look around and I realize…” pause for emotion, “God left this place a long time ago.”

“This place” is the civil war-torn country of Sierra Leone in 1999, the setting for 2006s Blood Diamond.  Using the illegal diamond trade as the backdrop for the primarily character-driven storyline, the film carries a hefty social conscience for a big budget Hollywood action/drama.

Blood Diamond is one of Hollywood’s “message films” that allow Americans to leave the Cineplex feeling a little bit better about themselves after seeing an “educational” film about disenfranchised Africans.  And you can now impress your friends at parties with your knowledge of world events.

Don’t get me wrong, Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland, DiCaprio as the “bad guy with a heart” who helps the black man find his son—these are all good mainstream films.  Meaning they won numerous awards and only the best things win awards.

This is why I noticed Viva Riva!, the Congolese gangster film that won the “Best African Film” award at the 2011 MTV Movie Awards last month in Los Angeles, CA.

Yes, the MTV Movie Awards now has a “Best African Film” category.

I think it was presented while the stars of Twilight: Eclipse were shuffling back and forth from their seats with their golden popcorn statues. But, as Sean Jacobs pointed out on Africa is a Country last month, “That’s the kind of publicity African films can’t buy and should count for something when the film opens in [the US]…”

The folks at MTV, who also honored DiCaprio’s Inception co-star Ellen Page in the “Best Scared-As-Sh*t Performance” category, may be onto something with their inaugural Best African Film award, pointing to a larger trend among Western audiences who are finding that there is more to Africa than what Hollywood tells us about in its “message films.”

There are several possible explanations as to why Westerners have a growing and earnest interest in learning more about African pop culture.  Perhaps I could continue citing the success of critically acclaimed African cinema, or mention the growth of the Nigerian film industry, known as Nollywood, into the third highest grossing film industry in the world, behind Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.  Or maybe I could point to the inquisitive, over-zealous, at-times-inane reporting on South Africa by international media as they set out like Louis and Clark to discover the country hosting the FIFA World Cup last June.  OR I could just put up a link with a picture of George Clooney in Chad, looking ragged but smiling as he shakes the hands of children—who I assume are orphans because it’s Africa and I’m American—and someone would click on it because they’re curious or to satiate their unrequited love for George Clooney.

Simply put, it’s the internet. The digital collective experience created by the Internet has opened doors to places that previously required a passport and an expensive plane ticket to get to.  The next time you go online to watch Lady Gaga’s newest music video, your curiosity may get the upper hand and maybe you’ll actually learn something by spending an hour wandering around Youtube.

Despite my snark, films like Blood Diamond, Hotel Rwanda, and The Last King of Scotland are successful, but they only tell one, highly-fictionalized story from one perspective.  MTV may not be the cultural spearhead it once was but that gilded box of popcorn provides us with another link to click on, another clip to watch, and another celebrity to follow on Twitter.

In the words of Leonardo DiCaprio, in an unidentifiable African accent, “This. Is. Africa.”


A New Hope That The Empire Strikes Back at the Jedi’s Return to the Dark Side

As we approach the possible sequel to Barack Obama’s New Hope the Empire is surely striking back. Personally, as a fervent Obama supporter in 2008 (I made calls to New Hampshire, Florida, and Pennsylvania) I’m happy that should he be reelected there won’t be a trilogy. There doesn’t need to be. Like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, Obama is being tempted and seduced by the dark side. Gitmo is still open; Afghanistan has drained the wealth of our nation, debilitating its ability to weather the global financial storm, while thousands of young Americans and Afghani civilians have died. Furthermore, an assault on the middle class in the form of debt championed by corporate welfare in the Senate and the White House has gone unfettered by our president. The empire has indeed co-opted this promising young padawan.

I’m not a fan of Lucas’s prequels to his masterful and visionary Star Wars Trilogy and I especially hated Episode 1: The Phantom Acting Ability. However, Lucas’s take on the process of political decay that befalls all republics has been spot on. In The Phantom Menace (the real title) it is a permanent bureaucracy in conjunction with a monopolistic business class that has true control while representatives squabble over inane policies and our kept in the dark on military and regulatory action. This bureaucracy knows no party affiliation or check on its power and through a combination of fear tactics, media malpractice (business class), and money has allowed for a reversal of civil rights of all Americans.

It’s on the back of these events that the Tea Party has successfully funneled white anger against the system only to reinforce the system. Senator Palpatine used fear of this bureaucracy to force of vote of confidence in the chancellor and take control for himself. The current rising star of the republican presidential field, Michele Bachmann, has stated in a Wall Street Journal interview that her favorite philosophical author is Ludwig Von Mises, the economist known for such writings as Socialism, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of Total State and Total War, and surprise surprise, Bureaucracy. 

The Tea Party continues to push back against this bureaucracy but through an unbalanced approach, blowing away sensible regulation of what pollutants go into our water and food while supporting tax credits for industries, deregulation of the financial system and the Sherman Anti-trust policies, and the reauthorization of the patriot act, all programs that have successfully crowded out the free market from American business.

The Tea Party should be careful not to make the mistake of propping up a messiah figure forth right that only serves to indulge their nativist attitudes while allowing the same monopolistic and bureaucratic policies to continue.

We must remember that the problems facing America are not the sole creation of big business as the left would preach or big government as the right preaches, but a collusion of both. This collusion of classes –political and financial– in the protection of a noble class in Washington must be stopped but not at the expense of creating a strong executive with wide powers over the state’s monopoly over violence. There are indeed admirable qualities that Ms. Bachmann possesses outside the hyperbolic religious fervor she espouses in Taliban-like rhetoric.

Many societies have stood on the doorstep of totalitarianism before a charismatic leader, Rome before Caesar, Germany before Hitler, and the intergalactic senate before Darth Sidious’s alter ego Senator Palpatine. I’ve never recommended the Star War prequels to anyone before, but to my Tea Party brothers and sisters I suggest a movie marathon… I’ll bring the popcorn.


Holy Superheroes, Batman!

The superhero genre is an American creation, like jazz and stripper poles, exemplifying American ideals, American know-how, and American might, a mating of magical thinking and the right stuff. (May Vanity Fair)

After Barack Obama was elected in November 2008, Hollywood saw the trend: This man would save America, from the economy, from foreign opinion, from war, from the Bush era.  He would bring America back to its former glory.

After a decade of sorted superheroes flying across green screens with the greatest of ease, in 2009 and 2010 only two films from the superhero genre were released, Iron Man 2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Both films were sequels; America didn’t need any new superheroes, we had Obama.

Now over two years into Obama’s term and things are changing.  If you needed any other signs that summer is finally (almost, kind of) here, you only need to look at the swell of blockbusters hitting the screens.  Johnny Depp with his raven locks and guyliner, took over the box office last weekend with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but two weeks ago it was America’s superheroes who officially launched their summer tour.  Thor, which has grossed over $145 million in the US since its May 6 release, is the first of four big-budget superhero films set for theaters this summer (X-Men First Class, June 3, Green Lantern, June 17, Captain America: The First Avenger, July 22).

Even more capes will be flashing across the big screen in 2012 with The Avengers, Superman: Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man.

So what’s going on?

In almost every year since 2000, at least one film from the superhero genre has cracked the top 20 list of domestic box office grossers.  The X-Men and Spider-Man franchises alone have grossed over $1.9 billion domestically, spanning across seven films.

Comparatively, however, the 2000’s were unable to capture a tone befitting the era, as the genre has done in the past.  Superman ruled at the box office from 1978 until 1988, releasing four films in the franchise.  The escalating Cold War and an economic crisis encouraged a country in distress to embrace the nationalistic timbre that defined Ronald Reagan’s presidency; Superman, with his ability to withstand bullets and leap tall buildings in a single bound, was an ideal guardian for America during the turbulent 1980’s.

As the last great enemy of the United States vanished with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, America became the world’s only remaining superpower, and in turn with the tide in 1989, Tim Burton would reboot Batman. A superhero who lacked any superhuman abilities, save perhaps his high intelligence, Batman a.k.a. Bruce Wayne, was a wealthy businessman-turned-vigilante fighting crime at night dressed as a bat, using an array of highly developed, tech-savvy weapons.  Batman was symbolic of the abundant wealth and economic dominance of Wall Street and Silicon Valley throughout much of the 1990’s.  In addition to America’s dark knight, Hollywood also created film versions of dark, morally ambiguous superheroes in The Punisher (1989), Spawn (1997), and Blade (1998).

But the post 9/11 America never found itself a consistent superhero; along with the X-Men and Spider-Man, Hollywood also gave us Hellboy, The Fantastic Four, Hulk, Ghost Rider, Chris Nolen’s take on Batman, another Superman, and Iron Man.

What makes 2011/2012 different is that, contrary to previous years when we saw the same characters over several films, only two of the upcoming superhero flicks are sequels, The Dark Knight Rises and Ghost Rider.  The remainder are either brand new franchises or reboots, such as Captain America and Superman: Man of Steel.

In 2008, America thought it had found its hero.  Now, however, it seems the “honeymoon” is over.  Obama’s campaign of “hope” and “change” were stalled by reality, and despite the achievements he has made thus far — passing health care legislation, over-turning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and now the death of Osama bin Laden — people still can at most times only talk of his failures, such as the slow economic recovery, high unemployment, and unforthcoming closing of Guantanamo.

Obama couldn’t perform miracles or walk on water, and he couldn’t instantly pull America out of the hole it had dug for itself since 9/11, as so many had expected him to after they built him up during the campaign.

Perhaps the words of Commissioner Jim Gordon closing lines of The Dark Knight best describe the decline of Super-Obama: “he’s the hero Gotham deserves. But not the one it needs right now. And so we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.”